This past weekend I attended CONvergence, a small sci-fi/fantasy convention in Bloomington, Minneapolis. One of my favorite parts about these kinds of conventions is the opportunity to listen to writers, artists, and others in entertainment industries speak about their creative processes. In particular, I enjoy hearing about collaboration across creators, because collaboration is part of my academic wheelhouse. At this particular convention, I got to listen to a storyboard artist in animation talk about her part in creating cartoons; at a different convention a year ago I listened to comic book writers, artists, and editors talk about creating comics.

What struck me as interesting about these discussions was how isolated the collaborative efforts seemed to be. Both cartoon animation and comics creation seem to be tasks that are highly collaborative–often it takes an entire team to create a piece, though many webcomics are solo efforts. This type of collaboration, however, is often piecemeal, with individual collaborators contributing pieces as the project proceeds and then not seeing the project again until its completion.

Granted, much of what I heard discussed was about individual episodes or issues, where the order seems to be basically script then art. I didn’t hear much talk about who brainstorms and/or makes decisions on multiple issue/episode story arcs–perhaps this is done in writer/director/editor/executive teams.

Regardless, hearing these stories of collaboration reminded me that bringing people together to create is always complex. There are so many ways to do it. Ede & Lunsford (1990) provide several options for workplace writers:

  1. Team or group plans and outlines. Each member drafts a part. Team or group compiles the parts and revises the whole.
  2. Team or group plans and outlines. One member writes the entire draft. Team or group revises.
  3. One member plans and writes draft. Group or team revises.
  4. One person plans and writes draft. This draft is submitted to one or more persons who revise the draft without consulting the writer of the first draft.
  5. Team or group plans and writes draft. This draft is submitted to one or more persons who revise the draft without consulting the writers of the first draft.
  6. One member assigns writing tasks. Each member carries out individual tasks. One member compiles the parts and revises the whole.
  7. One person dictates. Another person transcribes and revises (p. 63 – 64).

I could see collaboration in the animation or comics industry as close to #1 in Ede & Lunsford’s list up there: an editorial/writing staff plans a series of stories and overarching story arcs, and then individual creators contribute their pieces, mostly one at a time. For comics, it would be writer, then penciler, then inker, then colorist, then letters. Editorial probably gets a peek at each stage.

I think, however, at the more independent level, there is more likely to be collaborations among writers and artists (smaller teams, usually) that work on concept & story together from the beginning.

However collaboration happens in these industries, I would find it interesting to examine them and compare collaborative techniques among these groups and groups of writers in other industries focusing mainly on print documents–technical writers, medical writers, engineers, etc. I would be especially interested to look at when groups decide to meet face to face and when groups decide to collaborate across distance. The storyboard artist I listened to at CONvergence talked about how she works primarily from home, mostly entering the studio for semi-social and social events–occasional happy hours and wrap parties with colleagues that she mostly doesn’t even recognize. Often, meetings for her take place via video conferencing software (VCS). If I could, I’d talk to her more about what works for her with VCS, and how she would change the tool if she could. That’s one of the things I want to do for collaborators with my research–help make collaborative tools that better support the things that collaborators actually need to do!

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